34 – The Art of Aliveness with Flora Bowley

Laura and Nikki speak with the amazing Flora Bowley (who Laura met during her Bloom True painting retreat in Bali eight years ago). Flora is an artist, a gentle guide and author of four books, Brave Intuitive Painting, Creative Revolution, Fresh Paint, and The Art of Aliveness.

Blending over 27 years of professional painting experience with her background as a yoga instructor, healer and lifelong truth seeker, Flora’s popular in-person retreats and online courses have empowered a global network of brave painters while creating a new holistic movement in the intuitive art world.

In her latest book, The Art of Aliveness, Flora explores the vast ways in which the principles of creativity can serve as fuel for a more alive and awakened way of living. No paintbrushes required.

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Topics discussed

  • Flora’s Startist story, from her initial realization that she could make a living painting to becoming a full-time artist
  • The process of teaching her first intuitive painting workshop
  • How she was approached for her first book deal
  • The connection between the intuitive painting process and living
  • Getting out of your comfort zone and breaking free from a rut
  • The importance of authenticity
  • Embracing the layers in both art & life
  • Examples of how you can add contrast to your art & life
  • Giving yourself permission… letting your life be art
  • Being committed while open to change
  • Adding aliveness into your everyday
  • How Flora is weaving together her own art practice, courses, retreats and books 
  • Making the in-person Bloom True retreat experience available to everyone at home through REUNITE (begins Aug 4th, 2021!)
  • Flora’s shift towards teaching the concepts from her latest book, The Art of Aliveness
  • Flora’s upcoming retreats in Santa Fe, Morocco, and The Omega Institute in NY
  • A little hello from Flora’s studio companion, Pearl

Laura

0:04
Hi, this is Laura Lee Griffin.

Nikki

0:06
And this is Nikki May with the Startist Society, inspiring you to stop getting in your own way and start building an art biz and life that you love.

Laura

0:15
We are artists who believe strongly in the power of community, accountability, following your intuition, taking small actionable steps and breaking down the barriers of fear and procrastination that keep you stuck.

Nikki

0:30
Follow along with us on our creative business journey as we encourage you on yours.

Nikki

0:39
Laura, who are we talking to today?

Laura

0:42
Nikki, today we’re chatting with Flora Bowley, who I met eight years ago while attending one of her amazing intuitive painting retreats in Bali. Flora is an artist, a gentle guide and author of four books, Brave Intuitive Painting, Creative Revolution, Fresh Paint, and The Art of Aliveness.

Nikki

1:02
Blending over 27 years of professional painting experience with her background as a yoga instructor, healer and lifelong truth seeker, Flora is popular in-person retreats and online courses have empowered a global network of brave painters, while creating a new holistic movement in the intuitive art world.

Laura

1:23
In her latest book, The Art of Aliveness, Flora explores the vast ways in which the principles of creativity can serve as fuel for a more alive and awakened way of living. No paint brushes required.

Laura

1:37
Flora, welcome to the Startist Society.

Flora

1:40
Thank you so much. It’s so fun to be here.

Nikki

1:42
Flora, we’d like to start our conversation with you telling us a bit about your Startist story, can you give us a glimpse of how you began your creative journey and evolved into the artist, author, educator and intuitive guide that you are today?

Flora

1:58
Mmm, sure I would love to. Gosh, it’s been such a windy road of unpredictable, you know, unfoldings as is true to the creative process, really. But I am one of those people that have always done art. You know, when I was a kid, I loved drawing and painting and making clay pots and just doing anything creative. That’s always been my happy place, and that continued through high school and then I went to college. But I will say when I went to college, I didn’t have the mindset then that I could be a professional studio artist. I definitely thought I was going to be a graphic designer or an interior designer or something that, like had a job attached to it, you know. And so that was something that took some time. And really, it was the first time that I had a little show, I had a little painting show at a coffee shop when I was in college and I sold a few paintings and like a light bulb went off because, you know, I was working as a barista at the time and making X amount of money and then all of the sudden I sold some paintings and I thought, well, maybe I could make some money selling my paintings and, and then I just sort of oriented to that. And then for, you know, I would say the next 15 or so years, I really did that whole, just making a lot of paintings, hanging them wherever they would be hung and doing art fairs and you know that life and prints and this and that and, and that was exhilarating and also hard. And I was like just squeaking by. And I was also working as a massage therapist and a yoga teacher. And it’s interesting, you know, when you look back and you kind of see how everything was leading up to, you know, something that you couldn’t have predicted back then because when I did finally get to the point of sharing my process with other people, which was about 12 years ago or so, you know, I had gotten to the point of really feeling like I’m kind of lonely as a studio artist. I thought that was my dream job. I worked so hard to get there and then I was missing people. I was missing a sort of other kind of purpose. And that was a really interesting crossroads because you know when you think something’s the thing and then you get there and you realize it’s not then it’s like this whole reevaluation has to happen. And so I went through about a year of just soul searching and well if this isn’t it what is it? And you know, I eventually, long story short I ended up getting invited to teach my painting process which was the first time that I’d done that and it was in that room, it was a cabin actually, on a lake.

Laura

4:43
Beautiful.

Nikki

4:44
Sign us up!

Flora

4:45
It was on Squam Lake, for anyone who spent a Squam Art Workshops. That’s a lovely place to begin my journey as a painting guide and what happened is that I found myself incorporating yoga and incorporating meditation and incorporating nature walks and making intentions. And it’s like, there was all this other stuff that previous to that experience had sort of lived in a separate part of my life than my… I mean, I guess it had always been connected, but it was really when I was sharing it with other people that I really saw, wow, this is a whole, this isn’t just painting, this is like, there’s a holistic thing happening here that’s just who I am and how I do it. And I think that was something that was that kind of, well, for one thing, it kind of set my workshop apart, maybe from just a painting workshop. And then it also, it just allowed all the parts of me to be in the same room together in this way that felt really satisfying, you know. And I just, I found very quickly how much I loved getting other people turned on with creativity. And that that was actually my passion, you know, right there next painting itself, which I always love and still love but it was really like watching other people remember that they have this too. Because my belief is that we all have it, we all have creativity just waiting, you know, just waiting, to be tapped and remembered and, and so to be in the room and to share and to watch that unfold. And I just thought, Oh, this is it. This is it. This is the thing that I didn’t even know I was missing. And and then as soon as that first class happened, it was just it put me on a real whirlwind of teaching and then writing my first book. And yeah, I just kind of haven’t looked back since then. Because it’s continued to be just so…I mean, it’s never there’s never a dull moment.

Flora

5:38
So how did that first book come about?

Flora

6:51
Oh, my gosh, it was the craziest thing because I taught that first workshop. So on the lake, there was apparently an author scout that was attending. And so I was actually, I was still I know, very lucky and wonderful. But I was still on the east coast, I remember I was at my friend’s house in Boston after teaching the retreat, and I got this email. And it was, you know, an invitation to write a book. And, you know, mind you, I had just taught this painting process that I’d been doing for many, many years, but for the first time to other people. And so yeah, it was just like, I mean, I took it as a sign from the universe, that it that this is the path. Right?

Nikki

7:30
Absolutely! So that happened in your very first workshop.

Flora

7:34
Yeah.

Nikki

7:35
That’s amazing.

Flora

7:37
I know. Just such a blessing. And but then it was a real learning curve for me, because, you know, doing something is very different than writing a book about it. And what I do is very intuitive. And so it’s not very linear. And…

Laura

7:55
Which is hard to describe, right?

Flora

7:57
It is, so that was a real, like, conundrum for me in the beginning of that writing process was like, how do I talk about this? How do I put this into a pages and into this, you know, this kind of format. And so I had to do a lot of soul searching and thinking about that. But um, yeah, I ended up my first book is divided into three main sections, and I called them Let Go, Be Bold, Unfold. And I remember sweeping my floor when that sort of like, download came through. And I thought, Oh, those are the three sections of the book. Because the beginning is just getting out of our own way, really. And there’s so many ways to do that. And then, and then it’s like, getting an action, right, like being bold and like doing the thing, and then letting it unfold. And like sticking with it. And so, yeah, I learned a lot about the process through through having to write a book about it. Yeah.

Nikki

8:55
And clearly, you must have liked the process of writing a book because you now have three more.

Flora

9:06
Yeah…liking the process? I don’t know. It’s, it’s, it’s a real…

Nikki

9:09
Valuing it.

Flora

9:10
Yes, I value it. It’s a challenge that I’ve risen to a few times now. Yeah, like I said, it clarifies whatever you’re doing when you have to do something like that, it really like gets you to drill in deeply to whatever it is. So yeah, it’s been, I’ve been really grateful for the opportunities to do that.

Laura

9:33
And I remember when I first found you, I think it may have been through that book. And then I found your Bloom True course, which was amazing. It’s just that different style of intuitive painting of layer upon layer and beautiful color because I love all the colors of the rainbow. I love using them. And it was so cool to, I don’t know how to describe it, but I think it’s almost like you gave your students permission. Like you gave us permission to sort of be there where we’re at and just sort of being vulnerable in a way that maybe we haven’t before.

Flora

10:07
Thanks. Thank you for that reflection. Yeah, permission giver is a way I’ve described myself like even on my business cards because I realized after years of teaching that that’s really what it was, was just sort of opening the door. You know, it’s the people that have to walk through it and do the work. But I love just kind of creating a encouraging, loving, supportive environment for people to explore creativity and exploring creativity also means exploring yourself, right. And it’s all connected. It’s all the same, really. And so that’s, yeah, like I said, I mean, I knew it when I first started teaching, like I love watching other people come alive in that way. And painting is so tangible, right? Like, you have this blank canvas. And then it turns into something. And so it’s sort of staring back at you, right? And showing you like, Hey, you did this, you know, and, and there’s moments where you’re like, Oh, God…

Nikki

11:03
What I have I done.

Flora

11:03
What have I done? I do not like this. But those are, you know, just like in life, it’s like when we hit those, those harder moments, that’s when we learn. And that’s when we grow, every time. And so the painting process that I offer, is very much a metaphor in so many ways, which I love to geek out on, around living. And that’s, that’s what my newest book, The Art of Aliveness is all about that.

Laura

11:35
Yeah, I wanted to talk about that. Because you say in your new book, the practice of making art is also a practice in living. And I love this concept of life and art mirroring each other. I know, personally, it’s totally true for me, where I get in front of a canvas, and I’m so indecisive, or hesitant about putting a color down, because I don’t want to ruin it. And I overthink everything, which of course, Nikki will tell you that I do 10 times a day. But…

Nikki

12:03
Well, bourbon might be part of my personal brand, but overthinking is Laura’s.

Laura

12:11
And so I find that that’s so true… in the way that you do one thing is sort of the way you do everything. But when you look at the painting process and how it informs life and vice versa. It’s really interesting. So can you tell us a little bit more about what The Art of Aliveness means to you?

Flora

12:29
Mmmm, yeah. Oh, it’s such a big question. I think to bring it to its essence would be to really understand that we are creating a life. Right? We’re creating a life. Life, isn’t iust…well, sometimes it feels like life is just happening to us, right? But that’s what this whole book is about, is remembering that we are the ones that are creating the life. And the same way in which we might create a painting. And so the same principles that I allow to guide my creative process, and we can talk about those, are the same ones that have taught me about how to live and I believe that painting has been my greatest teacher in life. So, so many things, like you just said one about, you know, trusting that one next mark you make, you know, and feeling that fear and then just going well, am I gonna stay and not do anything? Or am I gonna go for it, and then trust that I, I’m a capable enough creator, where even if that one mark I make slash that one thing I do in my life, doesn’t work out that I get to choose again. And then I get to choose again, and that it all builds on itself. And yeah, part of it is making, you know, quote, unquote, mistakes, and getting to reroute. And, you know, change is a really big part of my process, like everything’s always changing. And also going into it, not having a plan mapped out, which is definitely how some art is created, why there’s this whole realm of art where it’s like, I have a plan, I’m going to execute the plan, and I’m going to make the art. That’s sort of the opposite of how I work. I try to empty out the plans. I try to really, like let my expectations and all of that just sort of be in the background. I might have ideas that I want to bring in. All good, but I don’t want to be ex… I think the word execute is interesting, right? Because it also means to kill something. I don’t want to be trying to execute something because probably I’m gonna become really frustrated if I’m working in that space. And so instead I found it early on in my painting, learning to paint that when I could let the paintings sort of reveal itself and sort of be open to these really cool surprises and the layers and one of my moves is I’m always turning my canvases upside down, seeing them from a totally different perspective. Layering allows you to let things go really easily, you know, it’s like you can do… that’s why there’s no mistakes, right? Because you can do all these marks and things, once that layer dries, you can cover them up, you can change that…you cover some of them up, you can add translucent paint, where they just peek through, like there’s so many different ways. And then the cool thing is that it becomes this presence practice, because every time you make a change, you change the whole painting, right? If you add a color, you add marks, now it’s a different thing. And so you have to stay present with well, now what’s working, or not working, right. And…

Nikki

15:47
That’s a great metaphor for life. Because just like, you make decisions, you make marks on the painting; it may be great, you may not like it, but you can cover it up, you can change it, you can go in another direction. You can do the same thing in your life, like one decision you make isn’t going to destroy your entire life. You can learn from it, you can make a different choice the next time and take it from there.

Flora

16:15
Exactly, exactly.

Laura

16:18
The word that comes up for me is allow.

Flora

16:20
Mmmm, I have it tattooed on my arm.

Laura

16:26
I think I need that tattoo, Flora. It’s just reminding myself to allow…

Nikki

16:32
Wait, can you commit to a tattoo, Laura? Or are you going to overthink that for 20 years?

Laura

16:37
I would probably ever think for 20 years. But um, but yeah, I sometimes I actually write that word with marker on my arm just to see it and remind myself to allow things to happen. And there’s so much of our culture that is sort of like get on a hamster wheel and work and hustle, especially for creative entrepreneurs. If I work hard, and I do this, and I burn the candle at both ends, then I’ll be successful, or then whatever. And there’s a new paradigm shift, I think, happening. I think there’s a new way of being. And I think your book speaks beautifully to this as well.

Flora

17:11
Yeah, I 100% agree that we’re in a big transition, thank God right now with that… well like workaholism and perfectionism, and the, really just the idea that to be successful, or to be happy, it’s supposed to be done in this certain way. And I think that’s like yet another metaphor that comes from the creative process is that, you know, when we’re creating a painting, WE’RE creating a painting, we’re not well, at least in my… I want to make that distinction…it’s like sometimes you go to a class and they tell you exactly what to paint. And then that’s not what we’re talking about, we’re talking about intuitive painting that comes from our, our own inclinations, our own sensibilities, our own, trusting of ourself. And it reminds us in a very tangible way that we’re capable creators, and that we have something unique inside of us that wants to come out. And once you practice, I really think of it as a practice like flexing those muscles of trusting our in… listening in, right, like trusting those impulses, trying them on, going that direction, and how good it feels when you tap into that flow that is all your own. It’s a very different sensation than if you’re like copying someone else’s work or going through a process that’s like this step, this step and this step. And I’m not dissing that, because those can be good ways to learn. But it’s a very different feeling in your body, than when you’re in your own creative space. And you’re like, I’m just making this up as I go. And this looks different than everything I’ve seen, I’m not referencing something else. And it’s like that energy that contributes and strengthens our ability to create a life that’s driven from within as well versus just listening to these other outside influences. I mean, there’s just so many of them, right, so many people telling us what to do and how to live and I think I think more and more people are craving to just be truthful with themselves. I mean, my gosh, like, I just there’s so many, you know, I think of Glennan new book, Untamed, and it’s just all about, let’s break free from these cages, people. Like let’s let our own wildness and our own humanity and all of it come through, and…

Nikki

19:35
So what would you say to somebody like me who loves this idea and wants to break out of the rigid… you know, I mean, I am a web designer and developer by day so I’m like coding websites and I’m also an artist, but I’m stuck in this kind of rigid business world too. And I want to break free and I don’t know how to allow myself. How would you tell somebody like me who wants that change to even start?

Flora

20:09
Well, I think a lot of people that show up to my workshops are very much like that, you know, that’s why they’re there. This is why they’re there, they’re coming to free up. And usually when people are wanting to free up in their art life, it’s to me, they want that in their life, too. And it’s like you said earlier, how we do one thing is how we do everything. And so, I mean, I have lots of tricks and tools and things, like that’s kind of what I feel like my expertise is in getting people to let go. And so you know, I do things, like closing our eyes and creating, I incorporate a lot of music. I do a lot of somatic movements, because we’re just in our heads too much is really what it comes down to.

Nikki

20:55
Yeah, absolutely.

Flora

20:56
We’re trying to frickin hard, right, we’re trying to make it look good. We’re trying to this or that. And it’s like, the coolest things happen in creative processes when we stop trying so hard. I mean, I can, for myself, and I can say that. So, I’ve seen it so much.

Laura

21:14
And I remember one of the exercises we did on, I think it was day two of your retreat, we had focused on making a couple of paintings the day before, and then you said, everybody turned to the person on your left or right and hand them your canvas. And we were like, Noooooo….cuz we had such attachment to whatever that was, and being able to allow and let go and be like releasing those expectations and taking on the change and what’s new, was very freeing in the end, but in that very moment, you’re attached to it.

Flora

21:49
Yeah, yeah, I love doing that. I love making people give their paintings away. And I love, I love collaboration. And I think there’s a lot to be said for getting in connection with other people, I think we are also moving towards that, out of this sort of like individual, I’m doing everything myself paradigm into a more collaborative collective, kind of a space in so many ways, because that is the natural way. Right? That’s when you look to nature, everything’s connected and collaborating out there. Right. And so, I think, you know, one of my favorite things to do is collaborative painting, where I’m actually painting with another person, or we’re passing it back and forth, or we’re passing things around the room, and many people are painting it because it’s like, we don’t even get to get in our own way when we’re doing that. And I and I think that’s, um, I think there’s a lot to be learned from that. Because I think that’s the direction humans kind of need to be orienting is towards community and collaboration. So, yeah, those are all good things, I think, gosh, just like, you know, using your non-dominant hand using materials that you’re not used to using, painting really big. You know, I like to like put a paintbrush on the end of a big stick, and then like, hold it way back and do you know, like, forced letting go. And just anything that shakes up the habits, I would be a fan of because I think we get in these real easy to get in ruts, you know, in life and in the creative process. This is how I do it every time you know. And so I know for myself, I’m always trying to like, you know, sometimes there’s a time to stay in your comfort zone. And that’s really nourishing for our nervous systems. And that can be like exactly what you need one day. But you don’t want to do that all the time. Right? Because that is going to inhibit growth, and inhibit breakthroughs. Like we don’t have breakthroughs, when we’re just doing what we always do. We have breakthroughs when we’re out on the edge of what is known. And so it’s really, really important to push ourselves out there. And art making gives us a safe place to do that. Because sometimes in life pushing yourself out of what is known can be scary, especially if there’s trauma, like there’s a lot of, but we get to again, we get to practice being out of our comfort zone because it’s just paint. I always say it’s just paint on paper people, it’s just paint on canvas, like it’s just paint.

Nikki

24:10
Right, jumping out of an airplane to get yourself out of your comfort zone has some actual life and death risks, making an abstract intuitive painting is probably not going to kill you.

Flora

24:23
Not so much. I mean, we think we kind of start to think it will kill us.

Nikki

24:26
Well, that fear can almost feel the same.

Flora

24:29
It’s so real. And it’s just, I mean, I’m always sort of like, I can feel it in the room when I’m teaching a retreat, I can feel that in the room where people are just like, in their heads, they’re making it mean so much about themselves and how good they are and all this big stuff, right? And I just love to just, you know, thats might be when we have a dance break, that might be when I make them pass a painting, or I instruct them in some way that’s going to shake that energy up because that’s the death of creativity right there is when we’re, when we’re in fear.

Nikki

25:03
This totally reminds me of something that happened to me when I was in art school, in undergrad. I was taking a painting class, and I was doing this painting that I’d been working on for days and days and days. And I was painting in like soft, muted colors. And it was like watered down acrylic paint on an unprimed canvas. So I was, it was almost like painting on fabric. And it was kind of watercolor-like really soft, muted colors. My professor came up with this paintbrush full of this thick, bright pink fluorescent paint, and slapped it on my painting.

Flora

25:42
Wow, How’d that go?

Nikki

25:44
I was 19. At the time, I you know, now I might have gotten what he was trying to say to me. But at the time, I just shriveled into a ball and cried.

Flora

25:57
Yeah, but you’re still talking about it. Right? You’re talking about that experience all these years later.

Nikki

26:02
I am.

Flora

26:03
It had an impact.

Nikki

26:04
It definitely made an impression on me. But I also kind of stopped painting. And I went back to drawing and I don’t consider myself a painter.

Flora

26:16
Yeah.

Laura

26:16
So, Nikki, you just need to take Flora’s workshop, and then you’ll be good.

Nikki

26:22
I think you’re not wrong. I think you might be right about that. I do take workshops in things that I’m not comfortable with, in order to do that now, in order to break out. So I draw very precise, and you know, rigid lines, ink drawings, and I did a workshop that was oil and cold wax. And you know, so totally different than what I normally do to break out of that. Yeah, so I do a bit of what you say where I stay in my comfort zone a lot of the time, but then I will do something to break out. I just, I need to figure out how to bring the two together and incorporate both into a slightly less rigid version of myself.

Flora

27:05
Well, that’s… I am always encouraged…. like I tell the story in my book, actually, about when I was early teaching, I was in Australia, and it was like halfway through a retreat, and this woman came up to me and she just was like, Flora, I am not feeling this. I’m an, and she said, I’m an architect. Like I am not into all your flowy lines and all this stuff you’re teaching. And it was a really great teaching moment for me, because I realized that I had not given enough permission for people to do it their way. And to really emphasize that what I’m offering or what I’m hoping to offer is not a style of art, it’s an approach. And so the approach is one where we don’t have a plan going in, we’re open to change, we’re listening to our intuition, we’re building up layers. That’s an approach, how that looks, can be wildly different. And I love it when I see someone do something that feels like, wow, that’s really them. You know, so it gets me excited when you say, oh, I work with these precise lines, because bringing that part of you into this approach of maybe just being a little more free with letting go and letting things change, but still doing your signature moves, that’s when things get really interesting, and that’s when people are more connected to their work. What I want more than anything is for people to have what I talked about earlier, that feeling of flow and connection. And I’m really in this in a real way. I’m not following directions. You know, I might be following directions to get me going, but then I find that space. And so yeah, that’s the goal really.

Laura

28:46
Well, another thing you talk about in your book is committing fully while staying open to change. I love this concept. And when I think about it, sort of like in your first book, where you talk about what’s your next big bold move, like what’s that next big bold move. And I remember being in Bali, and you were demoing on a canvas. And at one point you were kind of looking at it and you just grabbed a whole bunch of like black paint and threw it on like a fourth of the canvas. And I don’t know if you remember this, but everybody just gasped. Everybody’s like, what just happened? It was so pretty. And I remember you turned to us and you said, I’m you said I’m letting go of something good to make room for something great. And I thought that was really, really a great thing to say because there’s so many times where we’re held – in both our art and in our life – we’re holding on to something because it’s just sort of good enough and it’s comfortable. And then when you can let go and be open to the change and actually make room in your life for things that are just amazing. It’s a hard thing to do sometimes because we can’t see the other side of it, right?

Flora

29:56
Absolutely. And I love that example like that’s definitely, I don’t remember that particular moment, but I’ve done that so many times.

Nikki

30:02
It’s a signature Flora move.

Flora

30:04
That was me. Because like, you know, I would imagine, like you said, like it was everything was so pretty, right? Like, yeah, okay, so everything was so pretty, like, what’s the energy of that, versus I bring in this dark, rich black paint. And then I’m sure what I did next was I let that dry and then I created a rich ground to bring in more contrast, and maybe bring those light colors back into that. And all of a sudden, there’s depth. So we went from pretty to depth. And to me, that’s… depth is more alive than pretty? I’m not dissing pretty, because I love pretty, but I see this happen all the time, where it’s like the, especially as women, I think we are so attuned to, like, it’s supposed to be pretty, it’s supposed to look good, it’s supposed to be like, pretty and lovely, right? And it’s like, we there’s almost like a missing of this grit that actually creates something that’s beyond pretty, right. It’s got feeling and it’s got energy. And this, you know, this, this is, again, it’s a metaphor in life, because, to me, the most interesting people that I meet are the ones that have that grit and have that depth and have been through shit and have come out of it. And like that, that’s much more interesting to me and alive than pretty. You know what I mean?

Nikki

31:29
Absolutely.

Flora

31:30
And I use that word as like, you know, not talking about necessarily how we look, but just, that sort of like, oh, everything’s nice, and, you know, pretty. So I think that yeah, there’s, I have a whole chapter on contrast in my book. And that’s a really big theme that I love to lean into. Because I’ve noticed in all the times I’ve taught painting that there’s a resistance to contrast. So for example, people will oftentimes use the middle values, so they’re not going to the darks, they’re not going to the lights, they’re in the middle, we call it midtown. And they’re using the same size. Their shapes are all sort of mid-shapes, sizewise. And maybe they’re using the same brush over and over. Right. And I’ve thought about this a lot, like, why is that? Why do we do that? And I and I think it’s because there’s a safety, it feels safe to sort of stay in the middle of mid-range, right? We don’t want to be too extreme. We don’t to be too much. We don’t want to be too extreme. We don’t want to push the edges too far. Except it’s in the pushing that things get more interesting. And more powerful.

Nikki

32:46
It’s kind of the same as being pretty.

Flora

32:49
Yeah.

Nikki

32:51
You don’t want to be too extreme. You want to be pretty.

Flora

32:55
Yeah, exactly. So I love contrast, and I love thinking in life, like how can I create contrast? And this, this goes back to your question Nikki? Like, how can I shake this up? And like, let go and you know, it’s like, look at how you’re doing things now and ask yourself, what would be the contrast to that? Right, and this is a huge, that’s a big, this is broad terms, right? But, you know, it comes back to the patterns and the habits when we when we’re doing things and we get in our groove. We’re not experiencing contrast, we’re not experiencing variation. And like those extremes, you know, and so how can we, I don’t even want to use the word extreme, because that makes it sound like we’re just hunting for drama or something. And it’s not about that, right. But you know, it’s like, like the other day, the other day, it was months ago, but it snowed in Portland. And it was, that’s pretty rare for us.

Nikki

33:48
And the other day, it was 112.

Flora

33:50
Literally, which was also contrast. But I remember I just had this idea. I was like, you know what I want to do? I like to run and so I I put on my running shoes, and I put on I got my headphones on and I put on some like really beautiful like piano, kind of symphony, like classical music. And I went out to the park and I went running in the snow with this music. It’s like I created an experience for myself, right?

Nikki

34:21
Which is definitely contrast to your normal experience.

Flora

34:24
Yeah, exactly. And so I love like, it’s like mining for the riches of life, right? It’s like how can I lean into what’s gonna create aliveness versus just continue to hang in my comfort zone.

Nikki

34:39
I love that.

Flora

34:40
I need to hang in my comfort zone when I need to, like I said before, like that’s important too. And that’s where we slowly die inside.

Laura

34:49
And what I love about your example, Flora, is also that was just outside of your own home, right like you don’t have to be like Eat Pray Loving it all over the world to have your crazy experience. Like you can be at home and have this contrast show up just in your everyday living and bring elements of that into your life.

Flora

35:07
Yes, thank you for pointing that out. Because it doesn’t have to be exotic, it doesn’t have to be expensive. It doesn’t, you know, it’s like, this can be simple stuff. And I actually think it’s the simple stuff that’s pretty powerful can be. Just walking barefoot, you know, like, things like that. I’ve been into walking barefoot lately, in my garden, or in the park or wherever. And I don’t know, maybe that’s gross to some people, but… since I live in a city, but it’s life giving to me, you know.

Laura

35:34
It’s grounding, though.

Flora

35:35
It’s grounding, it’s grounding. And it’s just anything where we can tune into our senses on another level, like heighten our senses, I think that’s like that’s a direct path to aliveness as well. And the creative process gives us that because it’s like paint and colors and all of this stuff. And, and it’s like we can do that without paint, too, you know?

Laura

35:57
Yeah, I think we forget, we forget that sometimes, on how to bring that creativity and that beauty into our lives outside of the studio.

Nikki

36:06
Yeah. Although I’m still not turning down a trip to Bali. Not that it’s been offered.

Flora

36:14
Yeah Bali makes it real easy to feel alive.

Laura

36:20
There’s so many things I love about Bali. I loved the way that they give beautiful offerings every day with incense burning. So there’s always this scent of incense in the air. And this sense of gratitude to the universe, because I’m giving this offering for… thank you for the day, and please bless this day. And there’s a lot of ceremony there as well. But there’s something very beautiful about that culture.

Flora

36:44
Absolutely. And we can, you know, I just lit my incense and my candle right before we got on here. Because I can, you know, because I can, because it’s that easy to do. And that just helps me through sense and through what it looks like. It just helps me kind of go, okay, we’re moving into like a sacred conversation, you know, and I love all of the little ways that we can do that, that just make life more meaningful. Really, it kind of just comes down to that. Like, I think we all know this stuff, too. Like we all know this stuff, but it’s just that reminder of like, well, then do it, you know, then do those things for yourself.

Nikki

37:24
Take the time to do that. Give yourself permission to do that.

Flora

37:27
Yeah. And how can your life be your art? How can your actual life be a work of art that you’re creating? I love to think of that.

Laura

37:40
And I think the more that you have your life be art, the more that’ll actually infuse into the art that you make.

Flora

37:46
Yeah, it’s an infinity loop. It just, they like feed each other, right? Yeah. I love getting away from that disconnection between oh, this is my life and this is my art. You know, That, oh, there’s studio time is its own thing and then there’s life. It’s like, how can you weave it? How can you stitch it together? And there’s so many ways to do that.

Laura

38:08
And you were talking earlier about being yourself. And I think there’s that authenticity that’s flowing through everything, when you can really be with your authentic self and have that weave not only in your art, but in your life so that you’re that same person through and through.

Flora

38:21
Yes, yes.

Nikki

38:24
So tell us a little bit about how you’re weaving all those things together in your life right now. So I know, everybody we’ve talked to is talking about how they’ve moved in-person retreats and courses online because we had this little pandemic going on. Not to make light of it. But between the courses and retreats and your own studio practice and writing books. How are you… and moving a lot of things online? How are you weaving this all together these days?

Flora

38:55
Oh, my gosh, yeah, it’s one big swirl. It’s all connected. I feel like it’s, I’m definitely in a place where it’s just all the same. It’s all creative practice. I actually, one thing I did during the pandemic was that I moved into my studio. I built this really beautiful space in my backyard that I’ve been hosting workshops in for the last four years. And I decided even before COVID that I was wanting to move away from that particular situation of having people in my backyard and so I moved into this really bright light studio space and I live here now. And that’s allowed me to Airbnb my house, which is allowing me to do some other things. And so yeah, just living in a creative space has been really cool. It’s like it’s just connected my life with my art practice that much more. Yeah, as far as everything else goes, my gosh. I you know, thankfully I’ve had an online business from the beginning as well as in person. So that wasn’t a big scramble for me. , I did create a course called Reunite, which is so interesting. In 2018, I was starting to feel like, I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be teaching this particular painting practice in this way, you know, it’s like, my wheels are always turning. And I’m sort of moving into this art of lightness thing in, which isn’t actually, like, when you read my bio, it’s like, no paint brushes required. Right? Like there’s, there’s so much that we can do without the paints. And so I’m pretty interested in that right now. And coming up with actual whole curriculums that still involve art making, but not on this big canvas acrylic scale, which is a whole, it’s not for everybody, you know, it’s not for everybody to paint in that way. And so I’m interested in yeah, how can we how can we do all of the kinds of stuff we’re talking about, with the intention being to bring more aliveness and so I had the thought I should professionally videotape one of these retreats, one of my Bloom True retreats, just to have it, you know, so I brought together this like cast of beautiful creative humans and a film crew. And we spent like, a week and I taught them the whole curriculum, and we filmed it with all these different camera angles, and then I just sat on those videos for like, two years. And I just, I was busy doing so much other stuff that I never really did anything with it. And then COVID happened. And I thought, Oh, my God, you’re a damn genius, like thank you, past self. So I had all of them edited. And I created what I call, I’m calling Reunite. And it’s basically it’s my entire Brave, Intuitive Painting Retreat that you can do at home. And so I ran it one time already. And it was so delightful how it translated for people. And because I’ve always been like, how can I… how can more people have this experience? How can it be more affordable? How can you know how? It’s just yeah…

Laura

42:07
And I can speak to my own personal experience, because of course I did attend in Bali. So there is that. But regardless of where the location is, I think you hold space for people so beautifully. And like we said before you give permission, and it’s just, you kind of leave feeling invigorated and leave feeling like there’s possibility in the world, you know, and possibility in my creative life, possibility for me, you feel very much community over competition. It’s just a beautiful space to be in. So to be able to translate that in-person experience into something online, I think is truly beautiful, and valuable and wonderful.

Flora

42:53
That’s so sweet, thank you. Well, I wasn’t sure it would translate totally, you know, I was curious. But we did it. And then we added a bunch of live elements on Zoom, and really got people to set up a painting space in their house. And I supported people on how to do that, and how to create a retreat feeling. And, and yeah, the first time we did it, which was in January, it was just, it really worked. You know, it was really cool. People loved it, I’ve never gotten as much positive feedback as I have from any of my online courses for that one. And I think it was because it did feel, I mean, we were also so hungry for connection at that moment in time. So I think that helps, but I think the fact that it was filmed with these real humans there was like 12 of us and that it’s in my studio, and like people really tapped into that whole energy that we created here. So that’s been a real… and then I also created to go along with that course, a 30 Days of Creative Wellness, little mini experience. So for the month leading up to the course, people are doing, like what we’ve been talking about, like how to stitch the art and the life together in really doable ways that aren’t like complicated or time-consuming or expensive or anything like just doable, practical, effective stuff. We do 30 days of that leading up, and then the live retreat happens and then people can access it for months after so they don’t even have to be there live but it’s pretty awesome if you can be there live, because then you’re doing it with all these people from around the world. So that’s happening again in August. So that’s really exciting. I’m really thrilled to to be able to offer that like once or twice a year.

Laura

44:39
And when is registration open for that?

Flora

44:43
It’s open now, we’re actually in the month of wellness right now. But if anybody wanted to join now you have access to all of that. It’s actually I’ve thought how the month of wellness would be a great thing to do after the retreat to to kind of keep the energy alive. So Yeah, people are welcome to join now and you would have access to all of it till the end of this year. So that’s how that course works.

Nikki

45:09
So tell us… give us a little bit deeper dive into if somebody were to sign up for it what to expect.

Flora

45:17
Yeah, so this course is really perfect for anyone who wants to paint in that bigger kind of on canvas, you don’t have to paint on canvas you can do on panel or paper, but it’s a painting retreat. Versus is where I’m going in my work, which is The Art of Aliveness, this is, this is why I created this, because I’m like, people are always gonna want to learn this piece too, some people. And so if you really want to learn that, if you’re interested in painting, maybe you’ve never painted before, that’s perfect, you don’t have to have any experience, it’s actually great for beginners…

Nikki

45:49
Or maybe like me, you stopped painting after a certain period of time and wanted to get back into it.

Flora

45:57
Absolutely. There’s lots of people in that boat too. Or maybe you paint and you just want to have that, you want to get out of your habits, like we’ve been talking about, or you want to free up or try something different, right. It’s perfect for all of that for any of those situations. But you know, you do need to have like, you know, canvases and paints, and but it’s, you know, it’s all doable. And I’m really thorough on leading people through, like, what to get and how to set it up. And all you need is like a little corner, it doesn’t need to be fancy, I’ve painted in all manner of places in my own life, storage units, basements, garages, whatever. So yeah, you need a painting space. And then basically how it works, so August fourth through eighth, those are the days that there’s live Zoom calls, in addition to all the pre-recorded videos that we made from that filming. And so basically everybody gets a schedule. And it’s sort of a suggestion of like, hey, I would say watch these videos in the morning, take a break, watch these videos in the afternoon. And that’s day one. And then at some point in the day, we’re gonna have a zoom call to check in. And you can ask questions and things like that, we also have this really cool thing, this was like a highlight of the first time we did it, we call it the open studio Zoom room. And we have a Zoom space, that’s open 24/7 during the live part. And so what people ended up doing was they would just click on the link, and then have it on in the background while they’re painting. And then people would chat if they wanted to, or check in just made it feel like you weren’t alone in the experience. People loved that. So we’ll have the Zoom room, I end up doing one-on-one consultations with people in the Zoom room for anybody who wants some one-on-one support, which is really the only way to get, my other courses don’t have that available. So that’s kind of a cool thing. And then yeah, it’s broken into five days, and so I tell people, if you’re able in your life, to carve out five days for this awesome, I know a lot of people aren’t and that’s also fine, you can dip into it whenever you have time. But you know, if you can, if you want to create that, like intensive retreat experience for yourself, then try to clear your schedule, and then just be… So basically you’re watching a video, then you’re doing the thing that I tell you to do on video, and then you’re watching the video, and I also do a lot of one on one stuff with the people that were here in the retreat when we filmed it. So you can kind of eavesdrop on those conversations. And it’s really uplifting. It’s really sweet. It’s like It’s like and thorough, you know, if you are interested in painting, and you and you don’t know where to start, or any of these other scenarios… it’s a really good foundation, I would say, it’s my whole process. It’s like coming to one of my retreats.

Nikki

45:57
I love it.

Laura

46:22
And the sense of community is so important right now. I mean, we’re all craving, like you said, that connection. Feeling so isolated for so long, and being able to be around other creatives and spend time with them in the Zoom room or wherever it is. I think that’s a really cool opportunity.

Flora

49:05
Yeah, and something that happened in the first round is like people really connected with each other through these zoom spaces and like made their own little groups and that are living, like how you made your good friend at the retreat. I keep hearing about these now we meet every Tuesday night, and they have their own thing where they paint together. And that makes my heart super happy. I want people to feel connected with other creatives. And that’s such a good way to keep showing up to the work, too.

Nikki

49:31
it’s a beautiful thing. I mean, that’s how Laura and I… Laura and I met through another course that we took that we were assigned little small peer groups, and we were in a group together and…

Flora

49:43
Cool, look at you now.

Laura

49:45
The rest is history.

Flora

49:48
I love that.

Nikki

49:49
So yeah, yeah, it’s fantastic. So the other thing I wanted to ask you a little bit about… Okay, so you’re talking about how you’re not going to teach as much of this kind of painting and the direction that you’re moving is more like in your new book. So is that turning into a course? or a retreat? or…

Flora

50:13
Yeah, I Well, I’m about to go teach three in-person retreats, all called The Art of Aliveness. They’re all really, really different. The first one is in Santa Fe, and I can give you guys links to these because I know the Santa Fe one is still something people can join. And that’s called the Gathering of the Creatives. And Julia Cameron is teaching and it’s a weekend in Santa Fe. So I’m teaching The Art of Aliveness there.

Nikki

50:41
And that’s in September?

Flora

50:43
That’s early September, like the first weekend of September. And then I’m actually going to Morocco.

Nikki

50:50
I saw that!

Flora

50:51
I know.

Nikki

50:52
And that one’s full, isn’t it?

Flora

50:54
That one’s full. That’s like one of these smaller, you know, this is actually 12 days long. It’s a whole deep dive. But that’s all Art of Aliveness. And then I’m teaching at the Omega Institute in New York. And that is, in the end of October. It’s a five day retreat. Also The Art of Aliveness. You can still you can still sign up for that one. So yeah, I’m personally at that phase of like, you know, like, I got really comfortable teaching my painting curriculum, like I could teach that in my sleep, right? I’m pushing myself out of my comfort in a big way right now. In my work, and it feels scary. It feels like oh, my gosh, are people gonna be okay, if we’re not painting big canvases?

Nikki

51:39
Can you tell us a little bit more about what you’re actually teaching in that?

Flora

51:42
What is this thing?

Nikki

51:43
Yeah, what is it? Give us a teaser?

Flora

51:46
That’s, yeah, I mean, I think a lot of it is yet to coalesce. But I mean, it’s like, all the parts are floating around, and I just need to sort of go, okay, this is how it’s all going to link together. But it’s a combination of, so art practices, so we’ll be doing drawing, we’ll be doing some painting, just not the big scale kind of painting, it’ll be more it’ll be on paper, watercolor paper, and writing is going to be a big piece of it. Meditation, movements, I’m a big mover. So you know, I get people moving, a lot of sensory practices and a lot of connection, community connection with each other, like authentic, communicating and relating. So just sort of a weave of different practices that are totally doable, you know, totally, not rocket science, like this is just like, like human stuff, right? We’re driving to our humanity. And we’re giving ourselves the time and space to be with these different simple practices. And then there’s going to be sort of the art practice will thread them all together. So we’ll always be coming back, like we’ll do say, for example, we’ll do a meditation or writing exercise, and then we’ll bring it back to our paper. And then, I don’t want to say too much, because there’s a lot of it is, in the spirit of like, people don’t exactly know where it’s all gonna go. But it actually does make sense and come together in the end. And we do…

Nikki

53:16
Just a tease is good.

Flora

53:18
Just a teaser…But yeah, I’m really, I’m really focusing on things that feel empowering and feel.. like, because there’s some kinds of art practices that are, like my big intuitive painting thing, where you go through, you got to grind through some, you know, like, you’re gonna be disappointed at different points in it, right? Because you’re learning to paint and it’s a whole thing. Right? I’m sort of like, okay, that’s great. And I know a bunch of things that are, they’re more like one-offs, where it’s just like, this is always going to be like, you’re gonna get something out of this. And it’s just gonna be like, wow, that was really cool. That was really fun. That was really enlivening. I got a download from that, whatever. And then we’re gonna move on to the next thing. It’s not about…

Laura

54:04
It’s sort of like art therapy.

Flora

54:05
Yeah, I would say that. I don’t like use that language exactly, but that’s totally what it is. And just very body, mind, spirit, all of it engaged. And I feel like we need joy. And we need fun. And we need levity, right now too, just as much as we did to dig deep and that’s a part of it too, of course, but I really want to do a lot of stuff that’s just honestly just fun and like gets us into a playful place and remembering that part of being alive. The part that when we were like little and playing with art supplies, how it felt when it wasn’t about making a thing that looks amazing.

Laura

54:43
Yeah, when did we forget about playing?

Flora

54:45
Yeah, we did, we have we really have. I think that’s really real for most people.

Nikki

54:51
Yeah, definitely.

Flora

54:52
Yeah. So it’s, yeah, I want to I want to find that sweet balance of like deep and meaningful and playful. And like, what you said, Laura, like, I just want people to leave feeling inspired and full of possibility and connect… reconnected to our aliveness, because I think something that is just, you know, because of COVID especially, so many of us are like, where’s my aliveness? Where’s my inspiration and that like spark of, whoo, this is, you know, I’m feeling this thing. You know, it’s like we’ve been locked away in our spaces alone, many of us and I feel really excited, honestly, to come back together in the room and to do meaningful things that are gonna just reinspire that feeling of aliveness.

Laura

55:42
I love it. Thank you so much for speaking with us today, Flora. I’ve been a huge fan of yours for years. And it’s such a privilege to have you here on the show. And I know that our listeners will get so much out of this episode, so much inspiration, and anyone who’s interested, hopefully, will be able to attend your retreat. And also grab a copy of your amazing book, The Art of Aliveness. I just finished mine. It’s on my nightstand. So it’s awesome.

Flora

56:10
Thank you so much. I so appreciate it. And I’m going to give you all a coupon if anyone wants to join me for the Reunite. I would love to have you join. It’s not too late.

Nikki

56:19
Excellent. And we’ll have the details for that in the show notes, for sure.

Flora

56:23
Great.

Nikki

56:24
Is there anything we should have asked you that we didn’t ask you?

Flora

56:27
Oh, you did such a good job. I feel like we covered some fun territory? No, I don’t, I don’t think so.

Nikki

56:35
We like to throw that in the end. And…

Laura

56:38
And any last bit of advice for people who are just getting started started with their creativity and with their businesses.

Flora

56:45
I would say, you’re right where you’re supposed to be it’s not too late. You didn’t miss the schedule that you’re supposed to be on, you’re right on schedule. And that to really pay attention to what makes you feel alive, and what moves you… whatever those little voices are that are telling you to do this thing that might feel kind of weird or out of the norm or whatever it is or something maybe that you’ve just never done before. Just to listen, that’s your soul speaking to you, you know, just to listen to that and follow through baby steps.

Nikki

57:21
Baby steps.

Flora

57:23
Yeah, the baby steps because it’s so easy to feel overwhelmed by whatever our soul is calling us to do but you know, it’s like one little thing at a time will get you there.

Nikki

57:33
One thing at a time.

Laura

57:36
For today’s Startist Society show notes and links to all things Flora Bowley. Go to startistsociety.com/florabowley. And don’t forget you’ll find a special 20% off coupon code for her August Reunite retreat there.

Nikki

57:54
If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, we’d love for you to leave us a five star rating and review and share the episode with your friends. Reviews and shares help us reach more Startists like you and keep us inspired to continue creating new episodes.

Laura

58:09
And before we go, an interview with Flora wouldn’t be complete without her studio companion Pearl Dog saying hello. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.

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